The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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Present Day
Quedlinburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany

No one seemed to be able to move a muscle after Elinor made her statement. The different members of the team staring at the machine as a variety of mixed feelings filled the air.

After all these years, Elinor was horrified to be face-to-face with the damn machine that stood before her. The machine brought a wave of emotions over her that honestly made her sick to her stomach. She felt that staring down Autumn at this point would have been preferable to this.

The silence that hung in the air was starting to become too much for Carter to take. Grumbling softly, he stepped beyond the frozen members of his team and made his way over to the machine, jerking Elinor out of her thoughts quickly.

“What are you doing?” she asked quickly, a frighteningly dark tone to her voice as she watched Carter turn around to look at her in surprise.

He tilted his head slightly, a little unnerved by the heavy, harsh tone in her voice. He was so used to the woman being so quiet spoken that her serious, dark tone was a bit of a shock to him.

“Um, securing the time machine...” he stated firmly, scoffing slightly as he glanced at Ivan. “Ivan, I think your girlfriend is starting to pick up on your grouchy nature, man.”

Elinor scowled at Carter as Ivan rolled his eyes, using his hands to turn Elinor to face him so that he could get a deep look into her frightened eyes. “Are you okay?” he whispered, leaning his head towards her face.

She released a shaky sigh, her trembling hands resting on his arms gently. “I’m fine,” she assured him, giving him a weak smile. “It’s just strange seeing it again after all these years, that’s all.”

He tried his best to return her smile, though he wasn’t entirely convinced that she was fine like she stated. He imagined that her stomach was probably twisted up in knots, her heart pounding slightly. If it wasn’t for the sound of Carter clapping his hands together he probably would have pulled her into a reassuring hug.

“Listen up,” Carter’s voice echoed through the room, quickly capturing everyone else’s attention from where they stood in the room. “We need to sweep the house, make sure that no one is already here waiting for us. Lula, you’ll stay with me to help me watch over the time machine. Brackston and Layla, you sweep the upstairs. If something goes wrong, use those damn guns Agent Simone gave you. Ivan, Elinor, you sweep the downstairs.”

Elinor turned her gaze to Carter’s firmly, her eyebrows knitting together as a thought crossed her mind. “Actually Carter, I think it would be better if I stayed with you and the time machine,” she admitted, ignoring the look of surprise that crossed Ivan’s face as Carter’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “I’m the only one who has seen the machine in action. If something goes wrong, you’re going to need me here to help.”

Carter glanced between Elinor’s hard, hopeful gaze and Ivan’s confused stare. He almost decided against giving into Elinor’s request but her pleading expression convinced him that she was probably right in terms of the machine.

Irritated, Carter let out a sigh as he rolled his eyes slightly. “Alright then, change of plans. Lula, you’ll go with Ivan… Elinor, you’ll stay with me.”

Elinor almost sighed with relief, her tense body relaxing slightly as she turned to face Ivan. Elinor could see out of the corner of her eye that Layla was staring at her with a skeptical glare but the sight of Ivan gazing into her eyes with a surprise expression on his face quickly distracted her.

“Don’t tell me you have a thing for Carter now,” Ivan teased, chuckling as Elinor smacked his arm playfully.

“You know that I only have eyes for you,” she assured him softly, her face lingering close to his as she gently placed a kiss to his lips.

He wasn’t anticipating her to kiss him in front of everyone, though he wasn’t about to pull himself away from the moment. He gave into her gentle kiss, his arms gently wrapping around her. It didn’t take a whole lot for him to notice that there was something different about this kiss, something off about the way she lingered softly against him. He would have questioned her about it the moment she pulled away, had it not been for her warm smile distracting him as she chuckled softly.

“Go help Lula,” she whispered, backing away slowly.

Ivan almost spoke up but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Shaking his head slightly, he mouthed an “I love you” before turning around, missing the way Elinor’s smile faltered by a few seconds.

“Damn,” Carter groaned from across the room, shaking his head slightly as he glanced over at Lula, who had a large smile on her face over what she had just witnessed. “So, do I get one of those? I could use a little good luck.”

Lula pressed her lips tightly together, a playful glint in her eyes as Ivan walked up to her side with a sheepish look on his face. “Ooh, sorry, Carter. I don’t think Ivan is interested in sharing one of those moments with you,” Lula admitted, playfully blowing Carter a kiss as she turned to bound out of the room.

It took every ounce of control Brackston had to keep himself from doubling over in laughter, the man practically choking at Carter’s look of utter disgust.

Layla rolled her eyes slightly, a large smile on her face as she shoved Brackston out of the room forcefully.

Ivan lingered in the doorway for a couple seconds, giving Elinor a smile small before he turned to follow the rest of the team out of the room.

Once she was sure that the rest of the team members were gone, she slowly turned around to face Carter, who was sitting on the arm of an old couch. She could already tell by the cynical, dark glare that he was giving her that he didn’t buy her story from a couple moments prior.

“I figured I’d be the last person you’d ever want to work with,” Carter admitted, his bright blue eyes locking firmly on Elinor, who was unable to meet his eyes. “Besides, I’m guessing from the way you kissed Ivan there a little bit ago… you’re bracing yourself for something.”

She hated that Carter could see right through her but seeing as he was a soldier, he could probably pick up on things easier than most. Watching as Carter crossed his arms over his chest quietly, she nervously reached for the chain around her neck and tugged at the key that was hidden beneath her shirt.

“I found Wells’s key to the time machine,” she mumbled softly, watching as Carter’s lips parted in surprise. She swallowed hard as she stared at the key, the uneasy feeling returning to her stomach. “It’s only a matter of time before Whittaker comes after us to find it, too.”

“What are you suggesting we do with it?” Carter asked quietly, staring at the key incredulously. He watched as Elinor shook her head slowly, her expression blank as she lowered the key.

“Not we, Carter… me,” she started softly, releasing a shaky breath as her eyes glanced over to the time machine, Carter’s gaze following hers as a look of realization crossed his face.

“You’re not serious,” Carter hissed, his eyes growing cloudy as he glared at her. “We don’t even know if the damn thing works. Plus, I’m pretty sure that Ivan, Brackston, and Agent Simone, in that order, would kick my ass if I did this.”

Carter’s head shrunk back in shock as Elinor leaned towards him, her gaze surprisingly stern for someone so small and timid. He could see that she was struggling with this idea as well, though he imagined it was for different reasons than him.

“I need your help, Carter,” she spoke firmly, her eyes unwavering. “As long as I am around, Whittaker will look for every damn angle to get this key from me. That means taking away everything that I have left,” she hesitated, her eyes glistening as she blinked back tears. “If you were given an out that would protect Lula and your child but it meant leaving them behind, would you do it? Or would you stick around and watch them die?”

Carter pressed his lips tightly together, his eyes softening as he finally understood what she was getting at. Licking his lips nervously, Carter glanced firmly at Elinor. “What do you need me to do?”

Elinor smiled weakly, tears flooding her eyes as she tilted her head towards the chamber nearby. “I need you to help me escape in the time machine.”

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